If I was to quote the part of 1 John 4:18 that says perfect love casts out fear, I imagine I would get a hearty “Amen!” from nearly all of you. But if fear is a bad thing, then what do you do with the 300-plus scriptures that speak of fearing the Lord in a positive way?
For instance, Isaiah 11:1-2 says,
“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (underline mine).
This is speaking of Jesus fearing His Father. He certainly didn’t dread His Father, nor was He terrified of His judgment. But He honored, revered, trusted, loved, and submitted to His Father. The early New Testament church walked in the fear of the Lord (Acts 9:31). That is the positive fear of the Lord that I want to talk to you about.
If it was important for Jesus and the early believers to fear God, then it would be a good idea for us to learn what the fear of the Lord really is. Although I can’t possibly cover that in one short letter, I want to give a few examples and illustrations.
In America today, we see a total disregard for authority. But the fear of the Lord includes respecting authority—from police officers and government officials to pastors and ministers. If people don’t like those in authority, they are being taught to “storm the castle” and overthrow those in power by any means. But that is not what the Word of God teaches, and it is contrary to the fear of the Lord.
Romans 13:1-2 says this:
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive themselves damnation.”
That is a powerful passage, and it makes it very clear that God ordained governments and expects us to be subject to them. Government, even bad government, is superior to anarchy.
When the Soviet Union was at its peak, the countries they controlled basically had order. Yes, it was oppressive, there was little opportunity, and there were many injustices, but there was order that helped keep society relatively safe.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, there was a great vacuum of leadership and authority. In some of the countries that left the union, chaos and anarchy prevailed. The same is true in many of the African countries that were given independence to do with as they chose. In many cases, there were bloodbaths as different factions fought for control. It’s very possible that the “Muslim Spring” we witnessed this last year could have the same results.
Does this mean that communism or a dictatorship is a good form of government? No, but they still have a God-given power to govern, even if their government is not based on the principles of the Word of God.
The same is true in the church:
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12).
God calls men and women into roles of leadership. Yet many Christians act like it’s open season on the leaders in the church. They feel free to criticize and speak evil of them behind their backs, spreading strife and discord among the brethren.
James 3:16 says,
“For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.”
This is not the fear of the Lord, and it opens the door to sickness, disease, poverty, divorce, and more.
This doesn’t mean that all pastors or ministers function exactly the way God wants them to. And it doesn’t mean you have to “drink the Kool-Aid,” so to speak, just because they are in leadership. All leaders make mistakes, and there is always room for improvement. But they are still in a place of authority, and honoring them is honoring God.
There is a right way and a wrong way to approach someone in authority with a concern. With your pastor, for example, you might go to him privately and say something like this: “I love you, Pastor, and recognize that God has placed you in authority in this church. However, in good conscience, I cannot support what you are teaching.” If you do that in love, without attacking him, perhaps he will listen to your concerns. If not, then simply leave quietly without criticizing him to others on your way out. That’s what the disciples did with the religious authority over them (Acts 4:1-33). That is a godly attitude, and it is operating in the fear of the Lord.
Here is another example that might surprise you. Romans 13:7-8 says,
“Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.”
Verse 7 is often used to talk about staying out of debt and paying one’s bills, but in context, this is talking about paying taxes. People who won’t pay their taxes are people who don’t fear God and aren’t honoring God.
I have been writing about honoring those in authority as part of the fear of the Lord. However, that does not mean that you should compromise your beliefs or submit to something that is wrong. Proverbs 29:25 says that “the fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe.”
This scripture is speaking of being “afraid” of man. When we fear man more than we reverence or honor God and His Word, we do not fear the Lord. When a ministry is threatened with the loss of its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status because of its stand on a social issue, what will it do? Paul didn’t have a tax-exempt organization, and God used him to change the world.
One of our Charis Bible College (CBC) graduates who started a ministry here in Colorado Springs recently faced a very similar issue. This organization provides homes for women while they are going through rehabilitation from addictions and abuse. The women are required to attend Bible studies as part of the program. The spiritual impact of this is so great that their success rate has been nearly 80 percent, far above any government program.
They received a total of $50,000 a year from HUD (the Department of Housing and Urban Development), a branch of the federal government, to help fund the housing costs for these women. But when HUD found out that Bible studies were required, they asked that the policy be changed, or they would pull the funding. You may have heard about this. It made national news.
But Marilyn Vyzourek, who runs these homes, wouldn’t bow or sell out her convictions for the sake of money. She stood firm and HUD pulled her funding. When I heard about this, I helped, as did many others. Even Glen Beck had Marilyn on his program, and he personally gave her $55,000. Praise the Lord! She is much better off than she was with the government funding. Fearing God pays off.
Honoring God and fearing the Lord more than we fear man can hit pretty close to home. Some won’t speak up at work, because they don’t want to risk any criticism from their fellow employees. People might roll their eyes at them, or maybe they won’t be invited to sit with them at lunch. I am amazed at how people are so often cowed into submission over the smallest of things.
The Lord spoke to me years ago and said, “You do not have the right to reject the Truth for another person.” What that meant to me was that I was afraid to tell some people the Truth because I thought I might offend them. So, rather than speak the Truth and give them the privilege of rejecting the Word for themselves, I rejected it for them. The Lord told me I don’t have that right.
Leviticus 19:17 says, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him.” That says that if we don’t rebuke our neighbors, if we don’t tell them the truth, we hate them. Or it could be phrased this way: We love ourselves more than we love them, and we’re not willing to suffer even a little rejection for righteousness’ sake. God helps us to fear Him more than man.